Ellen Kochansky’s Rensing Center Residency in Borseda, Italy is a delightful refuge. On the last week of September, we travelled increasingly winding roads through a hailstorm followed by a rainbow. All of the descriptions and tidbits of kind information made the key turn of a green door open to a place and time that I will forever cherish.
I visited this secluded town in the Ligurian mountains with my husband John Sperry, a pediatrician known as the Dr. Babe. With us were daughters Labanna, 31, from New Orleans, and Reba, 29, from Asheville. We have an upcoming show called “Family Ties” at tThe Southern contemporary gallery during Charleton’s Spoleto festival 2018 starting May 17th through July 8th. With no WiFi in this ancient village, we began our collaborative process.
Both daughters are capable artists, with huge personalities that could not be more different, and incredible cooks. For dinner, Labanna made a stew using squilla mantis, a huge local shrimp, along with wine, shallots, butter, parsley, tomatoes, sea asparagus, and garlic. Reba figured out the gas stove in the well-equipped kitchen. After we ate, a bat darted about, and Labanna the Bat Whisperer used her coos and a lavender-embroidered dishtowel to capture and release it to freedom.
We had our first breakfast on the outdoor patio, then took a introductory photographic walk through the village where grapevines were turning crimson. Labanna and I spent the rest of the quiet day painting while John and Reba read.
On Tuesday we day tripped to Cinque Terre. From southernmost Riomaggiore first, we took a train to Monterossa al Mare. There we dined overlooking the beach, where the girls sunbathed and swam in the salty sea. Next Vernazza, smaller and less touristy, and on to Corniglia, where we climbed over three hundred steps. Manarola was our sunset village with boats returning to the streets. After a full day of people-watching and walking, we drove home to a sauce of pork and beef made the night before using Ellen’s spices.
The next morning we painted watercolors and discussed the Southern, argued and reconciled. We hiked five miles of the stunning Alta Via ridge near Veppo. For dinner, we had yummy beans that took four days to cook, with fish from the Wednesday truck. Reba stacked the futon with every comforter in the house, and she and Labanna slept by the wood stove. John and I cuddled comfortably in a separate room with shutters open.
Thursday morning, we took the long route along the coast to Genoa, where my dear friend John Taylor, godfather to my daughters, lived as a young man. We entered the remnants of 12th century San Andrea cloisters, saw work by Rubens (1589-1606), and enjoyed an antique market full of treasures. For dinner, Labanna stuffed squash blossoms with gorgonzola dolce and my leftover sauce, served with Reba’s salad of shaved brussel sprouts, raw peas, lemon, garlic, and reduced balsamic.
Paulo, Rensing’s caretaker, was setting out to gather mushrooms early Friday morning as we left for La Spezia flea market. Our last day, we went to Veppo and visited a little restaurant owned by Stephano, friend of Ellen’s. He served us a lunch made with love by his mother, along with two bottles of wine. Delicious! After that, everyone napped while I painted.
I am so grateful to Ellen for this escape with my loved ones. If you want an artist, writer or ecologist this residency in authentic Italy then the Rensing Center’s Borseda Program is perfect. The one bedroom, living room, kitchen, bath and large outdoor terrace is in a town of about 26 residents who don’t speak English. We were lucky to have this adventure as a family, on the border of Tuscany in a tiny neighborhood of peace.